Wednesday 23 January 2008

Good-bye to Dada-Abu

Father-in-law left to return to Pakistan today, leaving a gap in our home where tolerance, wisdom and fun resided. We will all miss him like crazy; he has been the patient target of our teasing for the last five months. I hail from a conservative Muslim family and my parents are reserved, respectful and very “proper”. In contrast my in-laws, who are 10 years older, are very friendly and affectionate and love to have fun.

I have learnt a number of lessons from this man, on the one hand, as a young man he was one of the most eligible bachelors of his generation in his locality. Known for his good looks, stature, education and excellent career prospects, he had the world at his feet and the arrogance and cockiness to go with it. Now 40 years later he looks at his sons and laughs when he says that one day they will be old like him and realise that the whole world doesn’t actually revolve around them after all.

On the other hand, there is nothing old about him. I love to see the beauty and goodness in life and in him I see a role model of how that carries into old age. I have learnt from him that youth is not just about age but about state of mind. It is cynicism that ages us and love and joy that keeps us young. He is still 21 in his mind and in his attitude (and often behaves accordingly when with his boys). I hope when (if Allah so wills) I am an old woman I am still able to laugh at life, to offer love to others and most of all to hope and be optimistic.

Book Review: Cry: the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

I picked this book up at a summer boot-market (Like an enormous outdoor flea-market but cheaper!) for about 30p to add to my stash for reading during winter when the markets are closed. I finally got down to the bottom of my bed-side pile in January and started to read this.

Set in South Africa just before the advent of apartheid, the book tells the story of a Zulu country parson who travels to Johannesburg to search for his son. We see a Johannesburg which is overcrowded and riddled with crime and poverty with relations between whites and blacks becoming more and more strained. The parson finds compassion in fellow priests, poor black people and whites working to help the “natives”. In the end his search leads him to his son who has impregnated a young girl and is wanted for the murder of a white man working for the rights of blacks. The murdered man is the only son of a white landowner from the town the parson hails from.

The book does try to show both sides of the story: the black population suffering from extreme poverty and the effects of the breakdown of their tribal systems, the white community living in fear of “native crime” - but also the arrogance and greed of the English.

I found the most powerful theme in this book to be compassion, the scene between the pastor and the father of the murdered man brought tears to my eyes and I had to stop and put the book down.

Alan Paton once said that “I want to interpret South Africa honestly and without fear.” I think in this book he managed to do this in relation to a particular time in South Africa’s history. The novel ends on a note of hope and this is further made poignant by knowledge of the apartheid laws passed a few months after the book was published.

At times this book felt very slightly ponderous, but some very beautifully written parts like that below more than makes up for this:

"Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too much moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much."

Wednesday 16 January 2008

When Free is Better - When Not (aka “The Cinema Job”)

Finally got my dad-in-law to do some of his packing, as he is returning to Pakistan in a week’s time. It’s not that I’m in any hurry to get rid of him, its just that the last time he visited, he and my husband remembered to do his packing the night before he was due to go back.

What has come in handy is the free suitcases my better half picked up in a house clearance he had to do – saved us spending £200 on new ones (he also got a new boxed heater and lots of hello kitty hair stuff in bags and gift bags that saw me through two Eid parties).

What also came in useful for the party was a multitude of little children’s seats that my husband picked up from a book he recently booked clearing out a cinema foyer and restaurant.

After a 12-hour working day he came back with 60 purple sofa’s, 40 children chairs, 8indestructible tables and a host of other stuff including an enormous purple beanbag which is taking up most of our living room and serving as a bouncy castle for the kids at the moment.

He was also being offered two giant fridges (I think the type they keep drinks and ice-cream in), but convinced the cinema manager that it was still useful (he’d have never got it out the door and into the van). Shame, I could have frozen enough veg to last till next year, would just have had to keep the fridge in the back room next to the stack of chairs which we also don’t need.

He managed to get rid of a lot of metal chairs by selling them to the scrap-metal man. Dumping the furniture costs money and cuts into the money he received for the job, so a good alternative is a boot sale. He dragged the stuff off on Sunday morning, with his two trusty assistant removal-men (dad-in-law and baby brother-in-law) in tow. They managed to sell a good number of the items extra cheap and left the rest there for people to take away free.

In the meantime, the free car I mentioned in a previous post is still gracing the front of our house (and still obscuring my flowers) and is still full of other junk we don’t need – more metal trunk than car really. Until yesterday we also had the humungous tellie that someone didn’t want, well radio really, you can hear the channel, but you can’t see the picture. It sat outside the house for a week, waiting for us to fall over it until the gypsies across the road asked if they could take it (“course you can!”).

No-one could decide what to do with the bean-bag until the kids started wrestling on it. And we decided to hold on to it until we get sick of not having enough room to move. Till then it’s pretty nice to snuggle on with my reading book.

Finding Purpose

I was speaking with my best friend about how the everyday demands of life can get you down and finding purpose in our lives.

Every one us of has issues, suffers from stress and can get depressed (I had four months of the baby blues after I had Gorgeous). We all go through times when we lose sight of what the point of it all is. That's what makes us human and that's what makes us unique. It’s also a result of the demands and expectations of modern life. That's what has led me to search manically for answers on the internet, in self-help books, in other people, in myself and in my faith, the only thing that's has helped me is looking inwards and not at other people and also going back to my faith: why are we here? What is our purpose? Once we start to act according to our purpose, I think maybe we can get some relief.

Its something that has been bugging me on and off for the last two or three years - we're supposed to be humble, but we want to be great, how can we ever be good enough Muslims when even the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet) used to cry over their past sins (what chance have we got?). We want a good life and beautiful things but don't feel we deserve them and also that we are sinful for desiring them rather than what is in the hereafter. It’s enough to make you go crazy with guilt and anxiety.

I started to come to some kind of understanding about this recently. If we were so unworthy, why did Allah pick us out to give us his message out of over 6 billion people in this world. If he loves us so intensely why can’t we love ourselves? He loves us and sees something good in us, he thinks us fit to do his work, he thinks us fit to be in his beloved's (SAWW) Ummah ...maybe we need to start giving ourselves a break and let him do his work through us and let ourselves fill up with his love.

Those thoughts are just helping me a bit, you get tired and exhausted of the guilt and confusion after a while.

"Verily with every difficulty there is relief." Al-Quran (Nashrah 6 - 7)

Friday 11 January 2008

Happy Jummah Campaign.

I thought I would post this as it is my favourite day and our Sabbath – Friday (or Jummah in the Muslim week). This is our day of community and coming together for prayer. My dad used to describe it as a mini-Eid, with its sunnan of bathing, applying perfume, wearing your best clothes and meeting and greeting your friends at the mosque. I also liked the way another brother put it - if we cannot stand together in prayer, than how can we stand together in the community and to defend ourselves. I believe that the Jummah prayer is central to this thinking.

Jummah is also my day for offering hadiyah (gifts). I usually pop round to see my mum and gran in the evening and take sweets, fruit or nuts depending on what I have in my purse (I believe in keeping this simple and cheap rather than putting a burden on myself). I also like to take something home for the family (I went and brought bags of banana’s, oranges and papaya at lunchtime from the pound-a-bowl stall).

I like the idea of making this day special, in Muslim countries this is a day off of work and school. Also since Little Lady doesn’t like school and I love the weekend, Friday is a promise of home and company, of family and fun.

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "When it is a Friday, the angels stand at the gate of the mosque and keep on writing the names of the persons coming to the mosque in succession according to their arrivals. The example of the one who enters the mosque in the earliest hour is that of one offering a camel (in sacrifice). The one coming next is like one offering a cow and then a ram and then a chicken and then an egg respectively. When the Imam comes out (for Jumua prayer) they (i.e. angels) fold their papers and listen to the Khutba." - Sahih Bukhari (Volume 2, Book 13, Number 51 )

Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) saying, "We (Muslims) are the last (to come) but (will be) the foremost on the Day of Resurrection though the former nations were given the Holy Scriptures before us. And this was their day (Friday) the celebration of which was made compulsory for them but they differed about it. So Allah gave us the guidance for it (Friday) and all the other people are behind us in this respect: the Jews' (holy day is) tomorrow (i.e. Saturday) and the Christians' (is) the day after tomorrow (i.e. Sunday)." - Sahih Bukhari (Volume 2, Book 13, Number 1)

Narrated Salman-Al-Farsi: The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said, "Whoever takes a bath on Friday, purifies himself as much as he can, then uses his (hair) oil or perfumes himself with the scent of his house, then proceeds (for the Jumua prayer) and does not separate two persons sitting together (in the mosque), then prays as much as (Allah has) written for him and then remains silent while the Imam is delivering the Khutba, his sins in-between the present and the last Friday would be forgiven." - Sahih Bukhari (Volume 2, Book 13, Number 8)

Me Old China

(As in China Plate, cockney for My Old Mate – sorry, this whole post is nonsense)

I went for dinner last night with two of my best friends from university, who I hadn’t seen for too long. These are two sisters who I love very much and who I have good memories of. One of them, the Femster, began wearing hijab at the same time as me and she helped make my journey towards falling in love with Islam so much sweeter and easier, I believe that Allah will always give her an equal reward to me for the time I wear hijab. The other, Sheebs (“who is requesting a shout out to Sister Sheebs”, so here you are babushka) is great fun and completed our trio with her mixture of sweetness and menace. She has also kept me company at a number of pointless social events which we both seem to have gotten invited to over the years (see you’re good for something).

For some reason though, in the time leading up to our dinner I fell into a spell of the grumps. I went to dinner with the intention of being fun and having fun, but for some reason felt like a pompous old bat at the end of it.

I thought about it lots last night and this morning because something was bugging me. I think I realised last night how different all of our lives are panning out, I think that’s the biggest challenge for friends when they don’t have everything in common anymore. That’s how friends usually meet and become friends isn’t it, when they have something in common?

I realised that I should come off of my high horse and be myself with you guys and accept you guys as you are because that’s more than good enough. Also, I have always tried to please others, my friends, family, colleagues, so a few years ago I decided to stop being nice and just be myself. Sorry if I'm not as nice as the old Umm Salihah, I still love you both loads.

Sorry for talking BS, that’s something I still am good at, I hope as I get older my big gob connects to my little brain, but I soooo doubt its gonna happen.

Apologies if I have lapsed into nonsense in this post, Fem, Sheebs, you both just bring it out in me.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Teaching Little Lady Al-Quran

I am currently in the process of teaching Little Lady her Arabic alphabet and it is turning out to be very trying for us both. I began by sending her to an Alimah (female scholar), but this was difficult due to timing (7-8 in the evening) which I felt was late for a small child and because we had to drop and pick her in the car every day, so if hubby had a delivery booked we had problems and she often missed lessons (I must be the only person in the western hemisphere who doesn’t drive). Beside this, because we left it to someone else we weren’t making her practise at home and she would miss two lessons and forget everything. I had no intension of putting my daughter in with a male scholar that I didn’t know (no offence intended – but I just feel happier that way), so I had to take responsibility myself.

The Alimah gave me some good advice about age – she suggested that girls start at four and boys at five. She had noticed that children younger than this forgot lessons and then couldn’t understand why the teacher was annoyed with them. I have seen children start younger than this with good results, but with a very gentle approach rather than the traditional desi no-carrot and a big stick approach (which I will not be applying)

I am using the Ahsanul-Quaid (Easy Beginners Lesson-Book) and she has memorised the letters and caught the pronunciation quite well. I have found that the gentle loving approach has not worked and I have to be very stern to get her to get ready, sit up and practice. It doesn’t help that Little Man will try and do everything to distract her and every lesson so far has been punctuated with a fight between them.

I am also trying to teach her the names of Allah and start her with memorising Al-Fatihah. She was happy to start with this Surah as I told her that having the Quran in her mind and heart will make her good and keep her safe. It also starts with Alhamdullilah which she already knows.

I am not very confident with this, but I think of my dad who taught all five of his children and many of the neighbour’s children Quran and memorisation of Surah’s of the Quran over a period of fourteen years without any formal religious education and I realise that as with all things it takes sabr and determination.

Please make dua for me and my children to succeed in this endeavour.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Hey Little Sis.

Had some lovely news yesterday. My youngest sister invited some friends to my recent Eid party and amongst them was one who I found particularly sweet and good-natured. Yesterday kooky-little sis informed me that she had taken shahadah (alhamdulillah!!), I was over the moon to know this. K-L sis was right, if I had known then I would have hugged you and not let go. I hope Allah blesses you with every good thing and showers you with his Rahmah. I know as a Muslim that Allah tests those of us he loves most, I hope he makes your test easy, please always remember that after every difficulty there is the guarantee of ease.

Also a small lesson, if you don’t mind, that I have picked up from other new Muslims. Please don’t judge your new family by its behaviour. Every family has its black sheep, hotheads, thoughtless members and those who lack proper knowledge. Please judge us by the message we follow, which I think we can agree is impeccable.


Friday 4 January 2008

A Little Place to Quieten your Soul

I had some nice news today. I recently asked my new employers about a prayer space or room and my manager said she would for arrange me a temporary space and ask the planners for the new building we are moving to about a more permanent area to pray in. She told me today that the new building would have a room set reserved for this purpose.

This reminds me of what had happened with my last employer. I used to miss all of the salah due during work hours and pray qazah at home at the end of the day. One day I felt I couldn’t go on like this and decided to find a back stairway or fire exit and pray there or perhaps sneak into the prayer room of a nearby university. That day at work an e-mail was sent out to all staff by communications asking if anybody would be interested in a multi-faith room. Of course I responded enthusiastically along with others and soon we had a comfortable, private place to pray alhamdulillah.

That wasn’t necessary the end of it though. The idea of a “multi-faith” room requires mutual respect and goodwill from its users and also responsible use considering you are still in the workplace. When a person decides their desires are more important than the rights of others, trouble is not far away. When a lady decided she wanted privacy from the men, it caused difficulty because it restricted when people could use the room. Then another group (non-Muslim) decided that only they would use the room on Wednesday lunchtimes for prayer meetings, everyone else agreed to this, except for one person who didn’t see why they should and caused bad feeling between groups of users. Another example was when a manager complained that a staff member had gone AWOL for two hours, on being questioned about this she declared she had visited the prayer room and was allowed to do this!! The person in question was not known to be a user of this facility. One brother, who did use the room regularly, was being told by his manager he could not use it during working hours and must pray in his lunch time (my manager had no problem with me being away from my desk for 10 minutes during work time to pray thankfully). In his anger the brother put up some general guidance for managers from the internet about use of prayer rooms on the room door. This caused the Chief Executive to go abso ballistic and declare that policy would be reviewed. The net result was that staff were told that they must pray in their own time. Good will was lost and managers began to use the multi-faith room as another meeting room with the result that the prayer space was no longer respected and reserved for that purpose.

You can’t really get cross at managers though, when you are not capable of using the room sensibly yourself. The whole experience was not a good one for creating an atmosphere conducive to dawah.

Regardless, it revitalises the iman when you make an intention and Allah (SWT) makes it so easy for you to fulfil your aim. It reminds me of the hadith:

Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radhiyallaho anho) narrated that Rasulullah (SALLALLAHU ALAIHI WASALLAM) has said, "Almighty Allah says, I treat my slave (man) according to his expectations from Me, and I am with him when he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him in My heart; if he remembers Me in a gathering, I remember him in a better and nobler gathering (i.e. of angels). If he comes closer to Me by one span, I go towards him a cubit's length, if he comes towards Me by a cubit's length, I go towards him an arm's length, and if he walks towards Me, I run unto him." (Bukhari, Muslim)

Book Review: Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

I picked up this book from my local library in a rush, attracted by the declaration that it had been voted “ Scotland ’s Favourite Book” and not having read anything termed “Scottish literature” before.

To begin with I found the book hard to get into and after a few pages put the book down ready to give up. On picking it up again a day later I was hooked. The book is written in a heavy Scot’s dialect using words that are not common in English. The flow of the book is also different, less structured than a traditional English novel, with sentences running into each other. All of these things should make for awkward reading, however I got so involved with the story that I tended to skim over passages of the book that were difficult to get a grip on. I also found that by about half way through the book you get into its flow and it suddenly seems a much easier read.

The story revolves around a young woman, Chris Guthrie, from a highly dysfunctional family, moving into a farming settlement. It depicts her love and attachment to the earth and the farmer’s way of life, to the extent that she is willing to give up her career and dreams to help the farm survive. It takes us through the deaths of her family members and the emigration of her brother, her marriage, the birth of her child and the losses she suffers as World War One breaks and affects even her remote community. By the end we see the loss of the old way of Scottish rural life and the breakdown of the community making way for a new kind of existence for people.

You would think with such themes that the book is depressing, but a very bawdy sense of humour runs through the book, preventing it from becoming too sad. The characters are engaging and easy to sympathise with despite or perhaps because of their faults and often strange behaviour.

It’s hard to believe that the intense and realistic portrayals of childbirth and the awakening of sexuality in a young woman were written by a man and this is a testament to Gibbon’s skill as a writer.

This book was not easy reading and I occasionally lost track of what was happening, but I enjoyed its humour and absolute irreverence towards authority, organised religion and the hypocritical moralising of the self-righteous. I also got a very enchanting sense of a land and people I feel I didn’t know very much about.